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How to cook Thanksgiving turkey outside without an oven

What is the best way to cook Thanksgiving turkey outside? We dare to jump and look for information.

Chris Monroe / CNET

This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 201

9 and contains tips for optimizing the holiday season.

Most of you cook your Thanksgiving turkey in the house, as is typical: in the oven. But have you thought about throwing your turkey on the grill? What about frying? You free up your oven to prepare side dishes and desserts. If you prepare your centerpiece in a different way, you can also say goodbye to the festivities for a moment and look for the bird.

There is no objectively right way to cook a turkey outside. Some swear that it is best to roast your holiday bird in the Big Green Egg. Others say that lighting their Traeger pellet grill is the only way. And the really brave of us will tell you, fried turkey is the ultimate Thanksgiving delicacy. And do not forget the classic Weber Kettle, which can be found nationwide in countless backyards.

For most of you, the right way is to use the grill you currently own. Nevertheless, we felt it would be a good idea to try four popular methods of cooking turkey outdoors and to prepare the results for a jury vote in the CNET Smart Home and Appliances team.

In the end, the results were pretty conclusive. Here's how it all went.

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Turkey-cooking technique for Thanksgiving


Let's talk about turkeys

All four of the birds we cooked were simple supermarket supermarket brand frozen turkeys packed in brine and sourced from the local Kroger. They all came between 16.2 and 16.5 pounds.

I have butterflies (spatchcocking) on ​​three of our four test turkeys.

Chris Monroe / CNET

They needed four days to thaw in the refrigerator, aided by a few hours wading in a cold water bath. If yours are already thawed, even better. After that, I smeared three of them and left the bird meant for the fryer intact.

I gave our turkeys a generous amount of herbal spice and a separate light pinch of salt.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Spatchcocking brings the dark meat closer to the heat and the white meat farther away. As white meat cooks faster than dark, the arrangement helps to finish the chest and thighs in unison.

Next I hit all the turkeys with a light pinch of kosher salt and a herbal massage. Kudos to amazingribs.com for this powerful turkey recipe inspiration. I then put them in the fridge overnight, where they sat until the cooking time arrived the next day.

When the Big Green Egg is at temperature and the ConvEGGtor heat diffuser is installed, it's time to cook.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Turkey Method 1: Large Green Egg

Kamado Style Grills, like the Big Green Egg, are usually made from enamelled ceramics. That's why they are great at keeping the heat out. They also keep a lot of moisture in the cooking chamber, which can help keep your turkey juicy.

At the beginning I filled my test egg with Big Green Egg Oak and Hickory Charcoal. I also stuck a piece of apple wood in the pile of coal. When the fire was lit, I put the ConvEGGtor accessory (feet up) in the fire bowl. This ceramic heat shield is located between food and coal and is required for indirect roasting or smoking.

We monitored the temperatures of two of the three grills with thermocouples connected to a datalogger.

Chris Monroe / CNET

I also used the SmartFire Barbecue Pit Controller. The gizmo enabled me to easily bring the green egg's fire to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius). Best of all, it hummed the egg with minimal supervision.

A thermocouple probe borrowed from our test lab provided heat values ​​throughout the cooking process. My target temperature was 160 degrees, and three hours later the bird hit that mark.

We carefully placed one of our turkeys in a tub of hot oil to fry it.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Turkey Method 2: Fryer

Frying a turkey is an intense, potentially dangerous cooking method. Among other things, you may have heard the various warnings regarding oil shifts. Suffice it to say here that you should not undertake to fry a turkey without thoroughly reading it or to collaborate with someone whom you trust, who has experience. We used a specially made turkey frying set. It contained a large metal pot, a sturdy stand and a propane burner.

Roasting turkeys requires special heat-resistant gloves and other protective equipment.

Chris Monroe / CNET

After doing a turkey and water displacement test, we poured three gallons of peanut oil into the pot and ignited the burner. After 15 to 20 minutes, the oil reached the frying temperature (350 degrees). In protective clothing (heat-resistant gloves, glasses and apron), my colleague Steve lowered the turkey slowly into the oil with the metal stand and the hook from the roasting box.

Lowering the bird into oil is a critical and dangerous moment. If you move too fast or do not thaw your bird completely, hot oil can spurt or an oil spill outside the pot can occur. Luckily we avoided that. After the turkey has successfully dipped, we let it roast. After 50 minutes, the inside temperature at the breast reached 160 degrees, our break point.

Turkey Method 3: Smoker of Traeger Pellets

I have long had respect for Traeger wood pellet grills, especially before Timberline 850 which I discussed last year. No doubt this smoker has turned everything I cooked into something remarkable. I am happy to say that Turkey was no exception.

When the porter is done, I put the turkey on the bottom shelf. I then activated the woodpellet grill's super-smoke mode.

Chris Monroe / CNET

After cleaning the firebox, I lit the grill and raised its temperature to 200 degrees. Then I put the turkey on the bottom grid and put the meat probe of the grill into the left breast of the bird. After that I closed the lid and activated the "Super Smoke" mode of Traeger for 30 minutes. It is designed to carry wood pellets into the firebox, where they smolder at low temperatures for maximum smoke generation. I used Traeger's own pellet mix, which is a mix of hickory, maple and cherry wood.

Overall, the smoker needed three hours to get the turkey to the right temperature of 160 degrees. It took a while for the right breast to boil faster than the left. Two-thirds of the way to the cook, I turned the turkey 180 degrees. As a result, the inside temperatures on the left side of the bird rose to coincide with the right side.

I created an indirect heating zone on the Weber Classic Kettle and then put the turkey on the cooler side.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Turkey Method 4: Weber Classic

For the first time, I filled a coal chimney starter with two-thirds briquettes. I did not use anything special, just the good old Kingsford Blue. After lighting and lighting them, I threw the coals on the charcoal grill of the Webber Classic. Then I roughly arranged them in a pile that enclosed the left side of the boiler. I took a piece of apple wood and put it on the coal bed as well.

A hefty piece of apple wood went straight to the coals.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Next, I put an aluminum drip tray to the right of the coals and filled them with hot water. Finally, I let the grill sink into the kettle and put the turkey carefully on the right side of the grill (over the drip tray).

For the recording both the cover ventilation and the bottom ventilation of the hearth were half open. I also monitored the grill temperature and temperature of the turkey breast with thermocouples. Soon after the Weber's closure, it became hairy. From a previously constant temperature of 325 degrees, the heat levels dropped to 150 degrees within 20 minutes.

I had a classic rookie mistake. I left the coals in the chimney too long before putting them in the pit. I also opened the lid shortly after adding the bird for a quick look. Now I paid the price. I saved the situation by setting up a new coal chimney, which I hurriedly added to the weaver.

When I brought the fire back to life, the heat rose so that I had to tweak the vents several times. Flame eruptions forced me to change the bird's position many times.

Tasting and Judgment

With 10 members of the CNET Smart Home and Appliances team, we conducted a blind taste test in which all turkeys were cooked and taken off the grill. We counted votes on numbered note cards, and only I knew which turkey came from which outside cooker. The results were clear and unmistakable.

The turkey with the big green egg came out well, but was not the best of the birds we tried.

Chris Monroe / CNET

. 4 Place: Big Green Egg

This popular Kamado brand produced a beautifully roasted turkey with a good amount of color and flavor. However, our panel rated the turkey of the Big Green Egg as the least popular. In fact, six out of ten tasters rated it as their least favorite. The texture of the skin did not blow me away personally. It was not as sharp as I prefer. And though the meat was not dry, it was not as juicy as the other birds I cooked. What I found most disappointed was that I did not taste much of the apple wood smoke flavor at all.

Here is our turkey as he came out of the deep fryer. It was golden brown, a little oily.

Chris Monroe / CNET

. 3 Place: Fryer

When we pulled our fried bird out of the tub, it was golden brown. The skin definitely had a bit of crispness, but lacked overall crispness. And when we cut the turkey, the meat was tender but oily. It was not bad, it just did not match our fried turkey fantasies. Six out of ten voters rated the fry bird in our turkey testing group the second to last.

After three hours the turkey in the porter was finished and looked very good.

Chris Monroe / CNET

. 2 Place: Traeger Timerline 850

When I pulled the bird out of Traber Timberline, his skin had a nice brown color. It also had some crispiness, though it could have had a touch more texture and crunch. The carving in this turkey, however, showed its true charm. His meat was the juiciest of all our example birds. Best of all, the porter highlights the natural turkey flavor and blends well with the sweet smoke in the background. Our jury agreed. Three out of 10 tasters chose this turkey as their favorite, and four out of 10 rated the Traeger bird as their second choice.

Despite the setbacks and fight for the proper cooking temperature, the turkey he made was fabulous.

Chris Monroe / CNET

. 1 Place: Weber Classic Kettle

I admit I did not expect the Weber Classic Kettle to do anything so great, especially since it took some work to stabilize the cooking temperature. I certainly would not have thought that it would roast a bird that is incredibly good, but that's exactly what happened. The turkey came out with a thick crunchy crust. It was bark-like, as I had expected on a brisket or a butt of well-smoked pork. The meat was also moist and tender and had a lot of smoke flavor. There was even a visible smoke ring.

The turkey cooked with Weber had crispy, crunchy, bark-like skin. The meat was also tender and had a delicious, smoky taste.

Chris Monroe / CNET

I was not the only one who felt that way. The bird that came out of the weaver was also the favorite among our tasters. Five out of ten panelists rated it as their favorite. Three out of ten tasters also voted for second place. Another indicator was that this is the turkey people chose when they went down for seconds and thirds.

Respect the Ancient Weaver

I now have a new admiration for the old Weber Classic kettle grill worth $ 109. Yes, it is inefficient and burns much more fuel than a kamado. Yes, it gives off heat and fills your yard with a ton of smoke. And yes, it's a completely manual cooker with no Wi-Fi connection, sophisticated smarts or a fancy wood pellet drive system.

What it can, I will argue, is much more important. It can turn a modest supermarket turkey into something of beauty and festive delicacy. It's also why I'm going to cheer on the old weaver when it's time to make turkey on this Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe you should think that over too.

Originally released earlier this month.

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